Omerta at the End of a

Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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He looked as if he had as much business being a pro shooter as Bill Casey had running the CIA. A middle-aged, soft-middled man of 49, Clay Alexander isn't even his real name. Only his former employers and a few officials in the Federal Witness Relocation program know that. Indeed, Clay Alexander is a name we decided upon for my interview with him. As he said with a smile, "Some of my former peers will recognize the reference."

Alexander has owned up to eight shootings in dealing with the feds to stay out of prison. Three involved .22 caliber weapons equipped with suppressors. He is only one of four of the infamous ".22 caliber killers" in custody to date. They were a loosely based squad of about fifteen professional killers, including two women, who used .22 caliber handguns almost exclusively.

"Most of the pistols were equipped with silencers that we either bought on the black market or had a machinist make up for us." he related. "At one time I had a Beretta and a Taurus modified for silencers, and I used both of these weapons on the job. They were very efficient and quiet. Most of my jobs were in public or semipublic places, although not when there was a crowd. Still, gunshots make a helluva noise, so we used silencers.

"There's no such thing as a real silencer. But two of mine cut that blast in half at least. And even a .22 makes a sharp crack."

Like a true professional Alexander is sophisticated about the tools of his trade. He knows the principles of suppressor design and can compare the differences between baffle and mesh systems, ported versus imported barrels. He also told me he had read my first book on silencers. I'm not sure that I should feel flattered.

Only one of his silenced weapons was recovered with him, the Taurus. It tested as efficiently as the suppressed weapons used by government agencies and the military. All Alexander would say was that "a good machinist with some previous experience in silencer designing made it for me. He did a damn fine job, a real craftsman. Too bad he doesn't work for the Army, too."

The Taurus suppressor is about eight inches long, a bit more than an inch in diameter, and uses a standard baffle arrangement in combination with copper mesh screening. The weapon is inside-threaded for the unit and the suppressor's finish is quite professional.

According to cultural myth, silencers are as common to organized crime as celebrity gossip is to tabloid newspapers. Actually, that myth is now reality; silencers are routinely used by criminals, although Omerta, the underworld's code of silence, makes information tough to come by.

But one thing is certain: cracks will appear in the wall of silence around Mob murder almost as readily as potholes will appear in American highways. For example, one empirical witness and user who later documented the Mob's growing use of silenced pistols was Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno, who described many long-hidden secrets about organized crime hits to a federal court jury in Los Angeles late in 1980. Fratianno described several hits using silenced .22 pistols.

A physical break happened in September of 1980, when ATF agents seized silenced weapons in the home workshop of a former Chicago police

Home Workshop Pistol

This Sterling 402 was recovered with its heavy, but useful suppressor late in 1982 from a felon with two prior arrests for assault with a deadly weapon. In testing, the suppressor caused a drop of .22 dB.

officer. Early news reports in the Chicago Sun-Times said officials were concentrating on the possible links between the .22 pistols being silenced there and those sold to contacts for Mob hitmen.

A spokesman for the Chicago ATF told me, "We are investigating possible connections between many unsolved, crime-related homicides using silenced .22 pistols and this case. Two suspended city policemen are under investigation for possible manufacture and sale of these illegal weapons to potential perpetrators of such crimes as assassination."

The Sun-Times named former police officers Richard Madeja and Joseph P. Ahrens as the two men under federal investigation in the matter. The silenced weapons were found in Madeja's home workshop, while Ahrens was named as the alleged salesman.

The ATF spokesman said that bullets passing through a silenced weapon pick up markings distinguishable from normal land and groove deformations. The types of silencers produced and marketed in Chicago and in the seized weapons made the same distinctive marking as the markings found on the bullets which killed twenty organized-crime victims of the .22 caliber killers. He added that one of those victims was Mob boss Sam Giancana.

People who say hitmen are found only in the movies never met Bernard Barton Hunwick of Ft. Lauderdale. Described by police as "one of the biggest hitmen in the nation," Hunwick was arrested in 1982. A search of his lavish canal-front home turned up a true arsenal of weapons, the tools of his trade. Included were handguns, rifles, shotguns, two pounds of C4 explosive, and two of the famed hit kits—Ruger pistols with integral silencers. "Damn fine weapons, real quiet and professional," said Detective Sgt. Dale Adams of the Ft. Lauderdale police.

The hit business is an equal opportunity employer, too. In 1980, NYPD officers arrested a twenty-one-year-old woman who was by all definitions a mechanic, a professional killer for hire. Blanche Wright was accused of murdering four men and one woman in her brief career. After her arrest, she admitted to two additional hits. Wright told police that her favorite weapon was a silenced .22 pistol, because "it made so little noise, I was able to concentrate without flinching."

Her partner, Robert Young, also a professional killer, used a silenced pistol regularly in his work. Isn't it interesting how well professional gunmen flourish in New York City, the self-professed home of the nation's toughest gun law? The Mob isn't very impressed with New York City's fabled Sullivan Law, the gun-hater's legislative delight. Early in 1981. agents of the NYPD and the BATF conducted a joint raid which netted thirty-five professional bad guys plus a large assortment of submachine guns, assault rifles, explosives, silencers, and silenced weapons. One cop who was in on the raid told me, "It was like capturing part of an enemy army and their arsenal. These mobsters had Ml6s, greaseguns, Thompsons, a couple FNs, and a whole bunch of loose silencers to fit the various weapons. They also had some pistols and a couple

This Sterling 402 was recovered with its heavy, but useful suppressor late in 1982 from a felon with two prior arrests for assault with a deadly weapon. In testing, the suppressor caused a drop of .22 dB.

Gun Silencer Inside

One of the Cocaine Cowboys carried this Taurus 9mm model PT92 with inside-threaded suppressor, until federal Strike Force people in Miami appropriated it from him along with some of his product. The weapon may figure in at least two shootings in southern Florida. Tested, the suppressor produced a drop of 26 dB. The serial numbers have been whited out to protect the cover of a source.

submachine guns with the silencers built right on them. All the silencers looked like they came from a professional factory. And this wasn't a major raid by any means."

In Newark in 1982, two brothers who were reportedly once members of a Hell's Angels gang were arrested with four cases containing 200 professionally made silencers. According to an ATF agent assigned to the case, the brothers, James and John Stevens, had intended to sell the silencers to two men they thought were underworld executioners. The "hitmen" turned out to be federal undercover cops.

According to George Schneider, the Essex County, New Jersey prosecutor, the silencers were manufactured in Denver then shipped to North Carolina. The two brothers transported them to New Jersey for sale into the metropolitan New

York underworld marketplace. An ATF source said the illegal silencers dropped the blast 20 dB on several .22 pistols tested with them. Each unit is six inches long, one inch in diameter, and constructed of PVC pipe and hardened steel packed with steel wool and washers. Their street cost was estimated at $600 per unit. The 200 silencers were shipped to the U.S. Navy for testing and use, according to the ATF source.

In a 1982 bust, the LAPD broke its largest cocaine seizure ever with the note that a silenced Ruger handgun had been recovered as well. According to LAPD Cpt. Robert Blanchard, the weapon was top quality, both externally and internally. He added, "It was the work of a professional, that's for sure."

Dope and guns are the one-two punch of organized crime. Both are highly profitable indus

Mob Hitman Silencer
This wonderful antique, an old Mauser 98 in 7.92mm, was used by a Mob hitman to scare the credibility out of a witness in a drug case in one of our western states. Although the feds haven't tested the weapon, the man who made the suppressor says it will drop the noise by 25 dB.

A New Jersey heroin dealer lost this prize when federal folks shut down his supply operations. Tests showed a drop of 28 dB with this unit attached.

tries with the majority of activity in our southern states and below the border. That's where you might find Robert Vesco, the infamous friend of our infamous ex-president. Vesco's private army of Cuban exiles seems to have easy access to silenced Ingram weapons. Indeed, it's common to read that shipments of silenced Ingrams being sold to Latin American police and military forces have suddenly disappeared, probably under the time-worn Latino policy of to the highest bribe go the goodies.

However, not all the silencer movement is in ripped-off or other small lot quantities. During the middle 1970s, for example, the Cuban exile Alberto Sicilia-Falcon. allegedly the heroin czar of Mexico, was negotiating through a respectable intermediary with an American firm for rights to fabricate fully automatic weapons with silencers for some sort of clandestine action in Latin America. Knowing Sicilia-Falcon's reputation, it is not difficult to imagine the nature of that action.

The silenced weapon is not only a useful business accessory, it is also a status symbol for those who run the heavy drug traffic between the U.S. and Latin America. The media regularly carry stories of the dope-trade gang wars in which unemployed terrorists, thugs, freelance gunmen, and some old pros rampage through South Florida's urban civilization with silenced submachine guns. One report told of an "armored war wagon" found by police after several "missions." Aban doned during hot pursuit, it contained a 9mm Browning pistol with silencer, a silenced M3A1 submachine gun, an Ml carbine, two cheap imported revolvers, a .380 Beretta with silencer, and several ammo cases crammed with cartridges for the weapons.

Asked about the heavy traffic, one Justice Department official told me, "Our people and the ATF come up with only a tiny fraction of what is going down in illegal trade for automatic weapons and silencers. When you look at those numbers involved in seizures, remember that's only a drop in the bucket. That should scare the hell out of you."

He's right.

In April of 1981, federal agents in Miami recovered more than five hundred silencers in Operation Sky Drop which was an antidrug/anti-Mob project. A Miami police office said the silencers were "smooth, finished, professional designs . . . intended for either pistols or small submachine guns."

I asked him if that meant the Ingram M10. He shrugged, patted his .38 caliber issue pistol and replied sadly, "I hope to hell not. But, if so, I pray the bad guys sell them out of this country."

Things got so far out of hand with Miami's Cocaine Cowboys and their Wild West shootouts that late in 1979, the FBI added Mario Tauro Coto. a Cuban narcotics dealer and freelance shooter, to their famed illustrated poster list of biggie bad guys. This same poster later graced FBI Bulletin. A man with a list of aliases as as his yellow sheet, Mario Tauro Coto's rorite weapon is a silenced .22 caliber pistol. These southern Florida drug wars of the 1980s t remind retired cops from Chicago, Detroit, New York of Prohibition era blastouts. It's down there; it really is. In the fall of 1979, for example, nearly a quarter of the 250 murders si Dade County were related to the drug industry, flhose deadly numbers grow steadily each year. These are basically territorial wars between the Colombian and Cuban drug wholesalers and their dealers. Dade County law enforcement officials dubbed the groups "The Cocaine Cowboys" and «ported the use of heavily armored and armed dope-running vans which they called "war wagons." The favorite armament for both groups is the silenced M10 submachine gun, easily obtained with drug money on the street market.

In the spring of 1981, ATF agents recovered 1 .-¿60 silencers in Texas, Georgia, and Florida in unrelated incidents. The scenarios involved drugs, weapons selling rings, professional gunmen, and Mob workshop silencer factories. In Houston, for example, on 6 May 1981, undercover agents penetrated a silencer selling gang; three men waiting at the Houston airport expected to swap 800 silencers for SI00.000 in cash. Instead of getting cash, the men were handcuffed and arrested.

In a guns-for-drugs deal in Georgia during "Operation Flying Circus," ATF agents recovered 620 silencers, plus twenty-nine machine guns, an airplane and 2,700 pounds of explosives.

In New York that same spring, ATF agents worked with the NYPD to break up a weapons smuggling operation with roots in Kentucky. "Operation Bluegrass" netted 129 illegal firearms and twenty silencers.

In another haul, ATF agents in Virginia and Maryland seized more than seven hundred weapons and sixty thousand rounds of ammunition. Included in the cache were submachine guns, silencers, sawcd-off shotguns, hand grenades, mor

Bernard Hunwick
Actual photo of professional shooter with well-silenced .22 pistol, the real thing. Don't even ask. . . .

tars, and rocket launchers. In describing the raid, agents were very careful to tiptoe around the issue of who was to get these illegal weapons before the bust. Les Stanford, an ATF spokesman, said, "In our judgment, they (the weapons) were available to anybody with the money."

He added that the pattern of sales did not indicate that any specific groups were buying large numbers of the illegal weapons. But as former UPI newsman Bob Russel points out, "Just how large a number of machine guns or rocket launchers does a small terrorist cell have to buy to be considered significant?"

In the U.S., two groups come readily to mind when terrorist practice is mentioned: hardcore, outlaw bikers and the Ku Klux Klan. Bikers have always loved silencers and evidence shows they use them both operationally and for show. In their book A Wayward Angel, former Hell's Angel George Wethern and Vincent Colnett document various police seizures of Hell's Angels' arsenals during the 1960s and 1970s. Inventory lists include the usual submachine guns, assault rifles, pistols, light machine guns, grenades, dynamite, at least two .50 caliber machine guns, and a number of silenced weapons and silencers. Former Angel Sonny Barger not only had several silenced pistols, but according to Wethern and Colnett, also possessed one of the old, original Maxim silencers. They noted in their book.

because the band never showed up," he said.

Asked if his group used silenced weapons often. Butch replied, "Sure, what do you think would be more effective? Silencers are great for shooting at people."

What is truly rewarding about the American way is that Butch will find a useful occupation when his prison term is finished. There arc several government agencies that can always use another employee with his talents and value.

Popular press stories in the early 1980s sensationalized how the KKK was heavily reorganizing and rearming. The Klan has included a variety of silenced weapons including Ml6s, Ingrams, Arma-lite rifles, and Ruger pistols. I read one police report in which an undercover informant who penetrated a Klan group says they had an American 180 with a "very professionally made and finely tuned sound moderator." At least one of the silenced Ruger pistols was documented in the Klan hit when member Hal Burdick was killed in California late in 1980.

And so it goes in Badguy Land, with the sound of gunfire silence broken only by the thuds of falling bodies.

Not only was the president (Barger) interested in powerful automatic weapons for police trades, but he also sought out untraceable pistols of small caliber, mainly compact and easily silenced .22 and .32 automatics, the kinds of guns commonly used in professional killings.

In the spring of 1983, several former Hell's Angels testified under the Federal Witness Protection Program before the Senate Judiciary Committee investigating connections between bikers and organized crime. One former gang member known as Butch revealed that his chapter still had "an open contract to kill Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones" because of the legal flap after the 1969 Altamont concert incident.

"During the mid 1970s, our people sent a member with a .22 pistol and silencer to a hotel where the Stones were to stay. But it fell through

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  • Russom
    What country's clandistine agent's were using .22 cal pistols to kill enemy agents?
    6 years ago
  • scolastica de luca
    What does the inside of a gun slientser look like?
    5 years ago

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